Authors: Meaghan Rauscher
, she said turning back my way.
Tunder wants this to be the end. A final battle.
The words ran through my mind over and over again as I realized what she meant. Lathmor was done being taken by surprise, the attack would be a result of last night’s events. Lathmor had the advantage, and Tunder would take the chance for all it was worth.
And there’s more,
she said as her arms drifted toward her sides.
He wants both of you to stay here.
There was only a brief moment before the rebuttal began. Even as he spoke, I could see the rage within him rear up, making his chest heave as though from extreme exertion.
That’s not possible
, he said.
We’re going, whether he wants us to or not.
, she shook her head, the black tendrils of hair drifting slowly behind her making the motion appear less urgent.
He won’t allow it. He wants to know you’re both safe.
Is this about trust?
he asked, his words cutting deep.
I think we’ve proven ourselves enough for your king.
No, it’s about safety. If Morven captured either of you, the plan would fail.
She spoke quickly, the murmuring language passing through her lips. Slowly putting the pieces together, my brain registered what she was really telling us.
It doesn’t make sense,
I said, even though I had no interest in being part of the battle. The sights I had seen last night were enough to prove to me I wasn’t ready for hand to hand combat. Sure, Zale had trained me as best he could, but that was training. When it came down to actually fighting and defending myself in a real battle, I didn’t think I stood a chance.
Why wouldn’t he want us to be there? With his skill and my voice, we could have a huge advantage.
But that’s just it,
she pointed out. I crossed my arms over my chest.
He thinks we can do it without you two, and he doesn’t want to risk Morven capturing either of you in the action.
As if anyone can get to him,
I hooked my thumb in Zale’s direction. My tone was bitter and I knew I sounded ridiculous, but logic was winning over the threat of what might happen.
It made no sense to keep your best soldier on the sidelines when he could be the determining factor in a battle. And though I hadn’t tried my voice since I had used it on Verna, I had a notion it might be much stronger now that I was fully transformed.
I don’t think he’s going to change his mind,
she replied and shook her head.
Zale said with all the arrogance that used to annoy me to no end. For once, I was on his side about this matter.
She heaved another sigh.
Elik was the one to convince him. Tunder wanted you both to go at first.
But you and Elik convinced him otherwise?
I asked, already knowing the answer. I wasn’t sure why, but for some reason it felt as though she had slapped me across the face.
Just think for a moment about what you are asking us to do,
You’re asking us to put our two most valuable assets in the middle of a battle, where being captured is a possibility.
Who could take me?
After the light-pitch of our voices, the deep guttural groan from Zale’s throat seemed to darken the conversation with an immediate threat.
Kryssa turned her sharp gaze on him,
You aren’t the one I’m worried about.
I felt the fire in my eyes and heat filled my cheeks. Even though I had been thinking the same thing moments ago, it was one thing to doubt myself, but to have someone else feel the same way hurt.
She’ll be fine
, his words were softer this time and I wondered if he doubted me too. It stung to know everyone thought me incapable of defending myself; incompetent of helping.
I’m sorry, but I don’t think she will be.
She shrugged her shoulders in response and I wondered if now that I was fully transformed, she no longer felt bad about hurting my feelings. But Kryssa had always been that way.
You’ll try and protect her, we all will, and that is a weakness Morven will know we have.
It hurt, and she knew it, but what hurt more was the way Zale’s anger slowly died and his chest settled. He was in agreement with her, and even though he didn’t look my way, I knew he worried for me.
I could see it all in front of me clearly, the battle unfolding, hordes of Hyven swimming toward me, and the only thing between us, was Zale. He would die trying to save me, I knew he would, and yet, I couldn’t ask it of him.
Feeling as though I was a child, I looked away from both of them and heaved a sigh of my own. There might be some way to convince them I could be useful, my voice might help, but now was not the time.
was all I said and looked away. Up above, the sun was beginning to break through the clouds, little sparkles of light beginning to dance upon the surface of the water. This time the sun didn’t feel as welcoming.
If you need me to stay behind on Lathmor, or here, I’ll do it. But take him with you.
Even as I waved my hand in his direction, I knew I sounded bitter. Part of me wanted to make sure they understood my unhappiness, even though I was acting like a child. It was all a matter of what had changed in the past moments.
My revelation of once again being Zale’s equal was still true, but it was tainted by the prospect of continuing to be a burden to those around me. I didn’t enjoy waiting behind, standing on the sidelines, hoping those I cared about weren’t hurt, but it appeared there was nothing I could do about it. At least for the time being.
I’ll speak with Tunder,
Kryssa said in my direction, but I didn’t look at her.
And next time you don’t have to try and be so careful. If you think I’m useless in a battle, then just say it to my face.
This time I turned my full gaze on her and was pleased to see her shift her shoulders in discomfort.
was all she said before turning to look at Zale again.
You can report to Lathmor in two days. We should be ready by then.
He nodded in response and when she flicked her fins with a giant kick toward the surface, his eyes remained on her. She disappeared as quickly as she had come, and part of me was happy she was gone.
After a moment of silence, I glided to the top of the pool, pulling myself onto the outcropping of rock where I had been sitting before Kryssa arrived. The spot was dry, having been kissed by the small rays of sunlight breaking through the chunky clouds.
I watched the lavender scales sparkle and shimmer, casting colors all around, until a hand reached out and slid along them.
He was solemn, his mouth turned down at the corners and the crease between his eyes pinched in an angle. If it hadn’t been for the anticipation in his gaze, I wouldn’t have felt the sting of abandonment. He was looking forward to the oncoming battle, and once again, I would have to sit and wait behind.
The desperation and fear was coming back, clinging to my throat and knocking me immobile. Too many times I had had to endure the waiting. Every time the Lathmorians had left on a rescue attempt to Hyvar, I had remained on the island desperate with worry for those involved and wondering if Patrick was still alive.
Left alone with my thoughts, I watched him gather our pants and shirts from the depths of the pool, along with the belt of knives and place them on the other side of the waterfall. He came back to sit next to me after some time, and it took more control than I thought it would to remain calm. There was no use for tears. There was only one way to fix this.
“Will you help me?” I asked. “I want to fight better.”
“Of course,” was all he said, the deep timber of his voice washing over me like water over rippling sand.
“I want to be able to help,” I explained.
“Then we had better get to work,” he said and slipped into the water, his chest high above the surface. I could just see the black scar across his hip, the flicker of it matching his fins.
Glancing at my own scar, I bit my lip and fell headlong into the water where he began to put me through the courses. This time it was more powerful and dangerous than before. My blades were drawn, as were his. He could have killed me a dozen times, but stopped right before the final cut could be made. Each time he berated me, pushing me to improve, move quicker, use my skills to get around him.
He was beating me soundly, his strength and speed matching both merman and mermaid alike. As he came in for another combat ending move, I suddenly realized he was playing dirty. He wasn’t letting me have the benefit of feeling as though I could accomplish anything. The sting from earlier, came back again and I felt my rage rise with the moment. He berated me, coaxing me to reach deeper.
With every thrust and parry, I felt my anger grow and when he came at me again, I took the offensive. As though it was instinct, my voice rose sharply in the waters and reached him almost instantly.
I commanded, the tune more musical than when I spoke the merlanguage in the depths of the water.
It was the same sound I had used when interrogating him before the Lathmorians. He halted for a moment, and then charged forward. I was ready and shot across the pool faster than him. Reaching the other side, I called to him again.
I cried breathless, even though he was charging toward me.
I won’t hurt you, and you won’t hurt me.
He shot forward again and I fled to the other side.
You know you want to be near me, need to be near me.
His eyes grew dull, but he still raced forward with obvious intent. I disappeared in a swirl of lavender and he hunted me down.
I said more calmly than I felt. He stuttered, and I pressed my advantage.
He slowed down, our eyes fixed together. He came close to my face, his blades merely inches from my body. He was struggling, trying to fight the hold I had over him, and somehow, I was able to maintain my control without tiring.
This is what you want, what you need. Put those away, you know you won’t need them. We are together, you and I. There is no reason to fight while we are here. Together. We are together.
For a moment, a battle warred between us. His eyes kindled with the fire, and a part of me rejoiced. It was a pure feeling of revenge for the way he and Kryssa had made me feel. Simply remembering the way I had felt, the way they had made me think I was useless, had forced the frustration and anger to take over.
I could feel it in my veins, surging forward and overcoming all logical thought. I wanted to make him feel the way I had; to make him beg for me to let him go.
No sooner had the thought entered my mind, then I blanched and everything between us dropped, disappearing as though it had never existed; a mere shadow of something that had been.
Silence fell between us, the water pushing between our bodies and our chests heaving.
I murmured, the sound no longer musical. My hand came to my head and I rubbed my brow. My arms were trembling.
I don’t think we need to worry so much anymore,
he said casually, and my head shot up. The corner of his mouth lifted as he leaned in to me. If we had been on land, our breaths would have mingled. He kissed me gently.
Even Morven had better watch out
, he said, and I smiled.
Will you tell them?
I asked, the worry of overpowering him with my voice was disappearing.
You can tell them yourself
, he shrugged his shoulders.
I wasn’t sure I even wanted to leave you behind. Now I see we don’t need to.
, I said, even though I knew he was fudging the truth a little bit. Of course having my ability was helpful, but in terms of actual hand to hand combat, I wasn’t the best.
, he said and jerked his head backward.
I didn’t have any more time to think about my voice for the rest of the day. He put me through moves over and over again until I had slightly mastered them. I wasn’t allowed to use my voice, it immediately gave me the upper hand. I had pointed out it made the fight fair, but agreed with him when he told me I needed to develop my physical fighting skills so I wouldn’t have to use my voice.
He was more aware than anyone, how easily the anger could take over, and though he approved the advantage the voice had, he knew it was dangerous to trifle with. His reasoning only helped to confirm my own fears.
We fought deep into the night, but as my exhaustion became apparent, he brought the lesson to a halt. Without a word, he took my hand and together we dove beneath the waterfall, resurfacing on the other side.
As though of one mind, we pulled ourselves onto the rock and he wrapped me up in his arms, my head lying on his chest. Our tails lay upon the smooth stone, every now and again lifting or sliding against one another.
I sighed heavily, and felt my eyes relax as he traced little patterns over my shoulder. Skin to skin and scale to scale, we were close to one another, relaxed in our embrace. The spray from the waterfall kept us damp, and as my eyes closed, I felt my mind drift away. The memory of my voice filled my mind, even as my body was covered in a blanket of water.
And in my dream when the siren called to me, all I could do was grin and answer back.
Late morning light crept in and found us, after hours of lying on the hard stone. Magical rainbows danced in the spray from the water and I had tried desperately to remain still, not wanting to lose the moment, but when Zale leaned over to kiss me on the head, it was time to wake. His fins had pushed against mine and I slid into the cool embrace of the pool, watching the lavender light splayed against the sand floor only to be joined by black fractures of shadowy light a moment later.
I had left him at the waterfall, transforming easily and strapping the extra daggers around my waist as I jogged toward the cabin. Inside I found some dried meat and changed into a pair of simple shorts and a top. They wouldn’t dry as quickly, but for just today I wanted to be something other than a soldier.
My arms laden with food and my Lathmorian clothing thrown over my shoulders, I strode back to the waterfall. Upon arriving, a very different sight than I was used to met my eyes. Zale was diving into the depths of the water, his legs kicking him to the bottom, where he would resurface with one or two fish clamped in his strong grip.
“What are you doing?”
“I prefer fresh meat,” he said, tossing two more fish onto the little pile he had created near the water’s edge before pulling himself out of the water. My mouth went dry as I watched the droplets course down his bare chest. There were times I forgot how much larger he was than before.
His wide shoulders and sculpted arms, corded with muscle, proved the strength he held. With each breath he took, his chest rose and for a moment his abdominal muscles stood out before releasing. Before Morven had changed him, he had been strong, incredibly so. But now, his strength had doubled, his arms thicker, his chest larger. I wondered if the clothes he used to wear would even fit him now.
The hint of a grin tugged at the corner of his mouth, and I looked away quickly, aware I had been staring. Heat flushed my cheeks and I squinted in the sunlight, as though I couldn’t really see. The smirk he wore told me my efforts were futile.
He sauntered forward and emptied my arms of the small load. As he walked away, I wondered if he was purposefully trying to make me look at him. His back was straighter than usual, the scars from Morven’s whip standing out in rugged trails; their presence overlooked by the dark glimmer where Nerissa had placed her blade.
As my eyes grazed over the pattern, I realized I had never truly looked at them before. I had touched them, seen them, but I had never really allowed myself to see them for what they were.
The scars were his past, his pain, but also his hidden strength. He had overcome what was supposed to defeat him.
The realization left me standing awkwardly between the water’s edge and the trees. As soon as I realized I was staring again, I hurried to join him.
“Do you think the Lathmorians can win?” I asked as I sank down to the soft grass and he handed me one of the fish he had quickly scaled. I grabbed the fresh meat and popped it into my mouth, letting it slide down my throat the same way I would an oyster.
“Perhaps,” was all he said, as he continued to gut another fish. He placed the raw meat in his mouth and reached for another.
I stretched over to the pile and grabbed a particularly small fish. Each move he made I copied—having done it so many times before at the restaurant—and when the deed was done I let the fresh meat fill my mouth again.
“It all depends,” his deep timber moved around another mouthful, “on what Morven wants to happen.”
“What do you mean?” I asked, trying to ignore the chills his words gave me.
He glanced my way, the soft breeze rippling his hair. “Morven is smarter than the Lathmorians give him credit. He knows what he’s doing. I wouldn’t be surprised if he already knows they’re coming.” He shrugged his shoulders as though it didn’t really matter. “When I was in Hyvar, he always seemed to have an idea for what would happen.”
“Like he has someone on the inside?”
“No,” he shook his head and pursed his lips. “More like he has a knack for reading merfolk. He can figure out what you’re going to do, long before you do it. There were a few times, when I was trying to leave Hyvar to see you, when he showed up unexpectedly. He always appeared innocent, but I couldn’t help wondering if he knew what I was up to.”
“Really,” I said, more in interest than in question. Thinking back to the few times I had seen Morven, I wondered if what Zale said was true.
Normally, when I was in the Hyven leader’s presence, I was frozen with fear, but there had been times when he had predicted my actions. In particular, the time he had kissed me and I hit him. It had all led to my being placed in the dungeon cell next to Patrick’s. Somehow he had known I would tell Patrick what had happened. Maybe Zale was on to something.
“I guess that makes some sense,” I acquiesced, gutting another fish. My hands were getting slimy and I didn’t want to think about how bad they smelled. Of course, I was now part fish, so it didn’t really matter.
Almost laughing at the thought, I wondered if I smelled. If it was anything similar to the salty musk Zale had, I would count myself lucky.
“What I’ve really wondered though,” he said solemnly, his hair shining like molten gold in the sun, “is what his motivations are. He doesn’t really hate the Lathmorians the way they hate the Hyven.”
“Maybe it’s about power?” I proposed, and he made a face.
“Possibly, but I think it’s more than that.” He shook his head as though it would help to assemble whatever thoughts he had. “There’s something else driving him.” The way he spoke with such affirmation made me wonder if he could be right about this as well.